Tag Archives: featured

When all is not lost

You may recognise this smile.  It featured in the book, Postcards From Heaven, when the front tooth was missing, and now 3 years on it’s full of big teeth, and the somewhat irresponsible owner of a (very-expensive-to-replace) removable palate-expander-thingy.

We were having a fantastic day at the Zoo and it wasn’t until we were just about to feed a magnificent giraffe that the gorgeous Chaos-Generator turned and grinned at me, revealing the tell-tale lack of wire.

“Where’s your brace?!” I yelled, “and why isn’t it in your mouth?”…

Fellow parents of wonky-toothed children may recognise the scene that followed. After an intensive hunt through bags and pockets and some frustrated remonstrations,  I left the kids with their Grandma and unenthusiastically retraced my steps around the Zoo wondering where on earth she might have taken it out and dropped it.

After unsuccessful hunts around the ice-cream stand and the Gopher viewing area, eventually I returned to the picnic area where we’d had lunch, more than an hour after we had left it.  The picnic table we had sat at was empty, and I hunted on and around it and the bin where I’d thrown the empty crisp bags, but the floor was covered in a thick layer of bark chippings and I imagine several families had used the table since we had.  There really was no chance of finding a 4cm wide piece of see-through plastic and wire.

The tiny bit of hope I had left drained away as I sat down at the table,  convinced that we would never see it again.

And then I looked down, and there it was, just next to my foot.

I’m not sure now whether it had been there all along, or whether God had moved it there.  But as I picked it up, flooded with relief, I heard God whisper “I am a God who restores”.

“I am the God who restores”

It’s funny because I would have said I knew God as Restorer well already, and I do, but in the sense of a restorer of a master painting – someone who comes in and painstakingly cleans something up and carefully repairs damage!  But obviously I only had part of the picture…

When I looked it up, the first definition of restore that I found was ‘to give back or return’.

Part of what God longs to do as our great Restorer is to return to us things that have been taken away,  things that feel forever-lost.

Perhaps there are parts of your heart,  your confidence, your strength, your faith or your hope that feel as though they have been taken away and are gone.  There are times in life when difficult things happen to us and something good that we had is taken away; we make a mistake and some part of us is lost.    If that sounds familiar, hear this:

 

Our God is the God who restores.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On fruitfulness

It’s nearly pomegranate season here on the island, and recently I saw a tree so laden that its branches were bowing under the weight.  These beautiful fruit are not quite ripe enough to be harvested, but heavy enough to change the shape of the tree that’s bearing them.  And it’s made me think again about the reality of bearing fruit in the kingdom of God.

Firstly, there are seasons.  The harvest has to come at exactly the right time. Too soon and the fruit isn’t ripe, too late and the wasps will steal it away.  Different fruit is ready at different times:  Accepting that life too has seasons and that God makes things happen according to his timing makes christian life a little bit less frustrating.

Secondly try as it might, this pomegranate tree will never produce a lemon, or cherries, or a sweet juicy nectarine.  Those things are wonderful, and I’m grateful that there are trees that grow them. But pomegranates are beautiful in their own way.  There’s something really powerful about seeking out what kind of fruitfulness God has for you in this particular season and then not wasting time or energy trying to do or be something else.

The third thing is that fruitfulness can be really heavy work – The branch that carries these fruit has taken time to mature and grow strong enough to bear them, but still, it’s bowing a little under the weight.   Sometimes fruitfulness is tiring: doing the things God is calling you to do, investing in the people God has given you, making the choices he is challenging you to make; all of those things weigh heavy.  But it doesn’t mean you’re getting it wrong.  Just that you need to make sure you make time to retreat into God’s presence to be filled and strengthened.  Just like the tree that needs to have a prop or two under its branches to carry the weight of its fruit  so we need to learn to lean back into him and let him shoulder the burden of ours.

 

If this is you – please schedule yourself some time with God as soon as you possibly can and ask for his strength and grace as you bear and gather in this harvest.

If it’s not you right now, can I make this a call of prayer for those that do need it?  I’m reminded of the time that Moses was praying over a battle, and the people of God were winning the battle as long as he had his arms raised in prayer, but would begin to lose as he tired and his arms fell. It’s a great story of the power of prayer, but I especially like the part where his friends realise what is happening and stand with him as they build stone towers that he can rest his arms against.

Perhaps you have a friend, or someone else who comes to mind, whose ‘branches’ are bowing under the weight of the ministry that God has given them.  Please pray for them. Call out to God and let’s be a part of releasing some supernatural strength into some parts of the kingdom that really need it!

 

reflect greens

 

fruitfulness

 

 

 

 

 

Orienteering

In a bid to avoid joining the teenagers on a (frankly terrifying) high ropes course, I spent a morning of our UK summer doing a family orienteering course in the woods with our youngest.  The idea is that you get given a map with little red boxes on it marking the location of marker posts, decide on the quickest route between all the posts and then race against the clock to visit each one and find your way back to the start.

“This is going to be easy”, I thought, “after all I’m a Girl Guide Leader –  I can do tents, campfires, the great outdoors and coating things in glitter –  a little bit of map-reading isn’t going to be a problem”.

Hmmm.

Katie and I set off with great enthusiasm.  A short but frustrating while later I realised that although my map reading is pretty good, my ability to walk in a straight line is sadly lacking.  I could line up the blue lines on the map with the north-pointing needle on the compass, point confidently in the direction of the next little red box and then head off (child now trailing behind).  But then somehow I’d slowly veer off,  distracted by the presence of an well-worn path or the sight of a family heading purposefully in another direction, and once again we’d find the wrong post, or no post at all.

What I needed to do was keep checking that the map we were following was lined up with the needle on the compass, and keep checking that we were walking in right direction.  Eventually I put the map in a clear plastic bag (this was England in the summer, remember) and held it out flat in front of me with the compass on it.

We made it home.

I’ve thought about it quite a bit since, this need to be continually checking I’m on the right path, continually lining myself up with the direction I’m being called in.

It reminds me of these verses:

… let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,  fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.  Hebrews 12:1-2 NIV

Running the race of life isn’t just about keeping going, it’s also about staying true to the path marked out and continually checking in with Jesus to make sure we haven’t wavered off.  It’s about being sure we’re running our race, not someone else’s; about going the way we’re called, not the way that looks easiest and it’s about keeping our eyes on the one who went first and has already completed the race.

For me this is about spending time looking at Jesus in the morning, worshipping him and letting him bring all of the stuff of my life into perspective; and then about checking in throughout the day, inviting the Holy Spirit into each situation and asking for advice: ‘Which of these things is most important?’, ‘How should I respond to that?’, ‘What would be the wise thing to do right now?’, ‘What do I need to do today?’ ….  What does it look like for you?

 

P. S. I suspect as well that it helps to remember that when it comes to the life-race,  even if you do go a little bit off course, there’s always a way back.   It probably doesn’t matter which order you visit each post in, only that you keep asking Jesus, “which way should I go next?”, and that you make it home in the end.

 

 

reflect greens

 

map

Keeping in step

Have you ever noticed how difficult it is to walk or run out of time with music that’s playing loudly in the background?

If there’s music playing in the supermarket, I find myself walking in step with it.  If what’s playing over the speakers at the gym is out of time with the pace I’m trying to run at, I stumble.  It seems to be natural to keep time with whatever is playing around us.

I wonder if this works in our spiritual lives as well? Whether we fall into time with the song that’s playing the loudest?

Paul writes this in a chunk from Galatians 5, a chapter which is all about being set free from walking in time with our old rhythms:

 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed their sinful desires to his cross. They don’t want these things anymore. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.  Galatians 5: 24-25

The trouble is that there are some times when the tune of our old ways is louder in our ears than the one that the Spirit is playing.

In the gym, or at the supermarket, the solution is easy.  I just plug in my headphones and play the music I want to keep time with.   It’s a choice.  I choose what to listen to.

Of course it can be harder spiritually.  When someone has hurt you, or behaved unfairly towards you, or when something you really want is right in front of you.

The song of my right to justice and vindication can play pretty loud I can tell you.  But somewhere on the edge of my hearing is a sweeter but more difficult melody of forgiveness, grace and friendship.  The song of the value of ‘things’ plays at top volume all through our society, and yet there’s a silvery theme of generosity and value outside of the material that can be heard if you listen heard enough.

And it is possible, if I keep making the choice, to tune into those other tunes instead. To walk out of step with the world, but in step with the Spirit.

As well as that, sometimes the tune that the Spirit would like me to line my life up with changes as circumstances, seasons and people around me change…

While I was thinking about and praying about this postcard I happened to see a Facebook clip of a class of 10 year olds performing on Djembe drums.  They were following a teacher, keeping in time with her using their ears to listen but also their eyes to see the little signals that showed she was about to change to a new rhythm.  It was amazing.  And the focus and determination they had to keep in time really spoke to me.

It made me think about the number of times in my life that the Spirit has started to play a different tune, but that’s it’s taken a while for me to catch on because I was getting on with the last thing, but not watching closely for a new thing.  Maybe because I’m not a fan of change, maybe because I’m easily distracted, maybe because I’m still learning to watch closely!

Keeping our eyes and ears on the spirit isn’t always easy.  But it is a choice, and it’s one that we need to make if we want to keep in time.

 

Flying Pigs

Sometimes faith falters in the face of improbability.

I find while I’m praying that a voice in my head suggests I aim at targets that are more realistic,  pray for things which are ‘easier’ for God to answer.

And yet, God keeps on calling me in the direction of flying pigs(!) – of impossible prayers that can only be answered by miracles.  Drawing me to hope for things that are beyond reasonable hope; to believe in the things I think I’ve heard God whisper; to expect that God will bring those things into presence of his kingdom so that they have no choice but to confirm to his will.

Flying pigs.

Something about this picture reminds me of the story of Abraham, as told by Paul in his letter to the church in Rome:

18 Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”[d] 19 Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead.20 Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, 21 being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.   Romans 4:18-21

The key here of course is that Abraham had heard what God had promised and believed it.  This isn’t a random, wobbly faith in something I want, it’s a faith based on the solid rock of what God has said.

“Ok, but”, I hear you say, “Abraham actually heard God, out loud, for real. Of course he had faith”

True…

But we have the revealed word of God, written down, full of promises true for every follower of Jesus, right now and forever;  He is faithful, we are never abandoned, he will build his church, he is not willing that any be lost, he is our Provider, our Hope, our Saviour, our Strength.

And we also have the now-word of God as whispered to us by the Holy Spirit in a hundred different ways.  God’s promises – Faith-bombs ready to be released into our hearts.

And in the face of the unshakeable granite of God’s word; simple, obvious reality (a ninety-year-old womb) starts to look a little less solid.

We have our hands full of promises that we can choose to stand on in faith, some of them that we’ve held onto for years, some which we might have left lying around for a long time and are just now picking up again.  Sometimes circumstances make those promises painful to look at, but perhaps it’s time to take them and like Abraham be strengthened in faith, give glory to God and be persuaded that God has the power (and the will) to do what he has promised.

So bring out your flying pigs today, dust them off and remind yourself and remind God of those things he said he would do. Cry out to him about the things he has said, and stand on the rock of his word.

May we see God do what seems impossible.

flying pigs

 

Aaron’s Staff

 

Any day now the almond buds will burst out on the trees in my city. Thousands of white flowers dusted in pink will dance in the breeze heralding the end of the cold damp winter and the beginning of spring.

None of them will look quite like this though, and I wonder what the leaders of the tribes of Israel were expecting as they waited for Moses to bring them back their staffs?   I imagine they were somewhat surprised.

Overnight the dead wood of Aaron’s staff, resting in the presence of God, had not only sprouted, but budded, blossomed, and produced almonds.  Not only had life miraculously appeared, but the process of budding to blossoming to producing fruit to being ready to harvest (which usually takes from late February until mid-August) had all happened in just one day.

I often put limits in what I expect God to be able to do or the time frame he will work in-This person that I love seems to be beyond his reach,  this harvest might happen, but it will probably take a very long time.

The message of today’s postcard is simply that God is life.

And because unstoppable, limitless, powerful, life is part of who he is, there are no limits on where he can choose to let that life break out; no limits to what he can restore; no limits to how fast he can do it.

Do you know people or situations that seem utterly beyond hope?

They aren’t.

He is life.

 

Do you wonder whether God can do the impossible things he’s been whispering to you about?

He can.

He is life.

Do you look at your own heart and fear that parts of it are never going to breathe again?

They will.

He is life.

 

He can take even dead wood and make it fragrant, beautiful and fruitful.

Sometimes all at the same time.

It just needs  to rest in his presence.

He is LIFE.

 

aarons-staff2

The Red Dot

“I wonder what that means?”

As we walked around the exhibition I noticed that a few of the paintings were marked with a bright red sticky dot.  Small, but bright. Obvious.

I found out later that the dot marked out a painting that had been picked out by a buyer and paid for.  Ownership had been transferred but, so that it could remain hanging as part of the exhibition,  collection has been deferred to the last day of the show.

To show which paintings have been sold (and are no longer available to buy) a little red sticky dot is placed on the wall next to it.

This is the picture that popped into my head a few days ago when I was skimming through Ephesians chapter 4 and read this:

‘… the Holy Spirit, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.’ (Ephesians 4:30b, NIV)

 

Today’s postcard of hope is that the Holy Spirit in our lives is like the red dot at an art exhibition.  When we believe and trust in Jesus we are instantly marked out for redemption.  His presence shows that we are ‘already paid for’.  Ownership has been transferred, only awaiting collection on the final day.

It’s a picture brimming over with grace.  There is absolutely nothing I can do (or not do) to affect my status.  I have been bought; the required price has been paid: I belong to God.

And I wonder to myself: If I really, really believed this, if I knew it in the deep places of my heart, how would I live differently?

Perhaps, I could rest in that truth: It is done. I am sealed for the day of redemption

Perhaps, I could stop worrying what God thinks about my multiple mess-ups.  He knew… he bought me.

Perhaps, I could stop striving, working hard to earn his favour. I belong to him… I can’t change the ending.

And perhaps, I could use that confidence and freedom to serve him from my heart instead of my head. I belong to God… he will be coming back to collect me.

 

I’ve read it in scripture and I know in my head that this is true: The Holy Spirit in me is a mark showing who I belong to.  And I can always try harder, strive to live differently.

But while it may be my style to try to modify my behaviour and hope that somehow that will sort out what’s in my heart, God’s way is to transform my heart, so that what flows out of it is good.  This postcard’s truth is so obvious, so important, that it sometimes gets stuck somewhere on the journey between our heads and our hearts.  We know it to be true but struggle to live out of it.  It’s probably one to ask for help with…

 

Father, thank you that you chose me,

that you valued me,

paid the price and bought me,

that I belong to you.

Spirit of wisdom and revelation, 

unfold this truth in the deep places of my heart.

 

 

reddot

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Embers

We’ve just moved into a new place.  To our great delight, as well as the necessary number of bedrooms and walls and a roof,  it has an open fireplace.  Believe it or not, winters in the med can be surprisingly chilly, and this one is definitely no exception(!)  so the past few weeks have seen something of a revival of the art of fire building and tending!

In all that, this simple picture has really found a place in my heart – Someone blowing gently on the embers of the fire and seeing them suddenly glow with light and heat.  It’s so easy, and yet almost magical to watch.  Seeing this happen over and over has stirred my heart, and a conviction has taken root that now is a time to pray over embers.

How many of you know people whose hearts have burned with passion for God in the past, but for whatever reason have gone cold?  How many of you have watched the fire of someone’s first love for Jesus settle into something steady but lukewarm?  Perhaps some of you can recognise parts of your own heart where the light and heat has gone out?   Perhaps you’ve even begun to believe that hope, joy and excitement are for new believers, and that the reality of faith is slogging it out in the cold.

Sometimes it’s about circumstances or disappointments that have caused a gradual, not even noticeable coldness, or perhaps we’ve lived life or done ministry in a way that really has ‘burned us out’.   Sometimes we’ve made mistakes (or others around us have), and instead of running to the stream of forgiveness we’ve let our guilt or unforgiveness smother the fire within us like a heavy blanket.

As always, there is so much grace here. We all live in seasons, there are times when we feel more or feel less of God’s presence, or have more or less zeal to serve him.  Sometimes faith really is about putting your head down and forcing yourself forward.  That’s kind of normal –  a pendulum swing in our walk of faith.  But maybe you look down at your own heart right now and all you see are embers.

In all of these cases, I am absolutely convinced that all God wants us to do with our embers is to surrender them to him and ask him to breathe on them again.

Where you can see embers in your own life, or in the people you care about, it’s time to pray.  It’s time to pray that God would come and breathe where the fire has almost gone out, to blow gently on the embers and to see them glow into life again.  It’s time to ask him to restore light, life and warmth to the hearts of men.

And it’s time to sit back and watch what happens.

 

embers-crop

 

 

 

 

 

The Art of Balancing Oranges

Ever played the orange-balancing game?  Players see how many oranges (or in this case mandarins) they can stack on a tea-plate, then try to stand up, turn around and sit down without dropping any.  It’s trickier than you might imagine.

Sometimes my life feels a lot like this.  There are so many oranges: so many things yelling for my urgent attention, so many people that need me to do something, or be somewhere, or find their shoes…

There are days when I think that if someone tries to balance one more orange on top of the pile (just one more) I might yell, throw the whole lot up into the air and storm away to some imaginary place of peace (maybe some arid place where no-one has ever even seen an orange).

I don’t of course, I just keep on balancing and dropping… And avoiding people who might have oranges in their pockets that they want me to carry.

I’ve slowly learned over the years that it helps to pray about things.  So I was moaning to God the other day about all the problems and worries and things to do (he called some of them blessings and opportunities, but I wasn’t in a totally positive frame of mind) and telling him how I really needed FEWER oranges thank you very much, or I couldn’t be held responsible for the mess I was going to make on the pavement, when he suddenly stilled my heart and whispered a word of great wisdom and encouragement:

 

“Get a bigger plate”

 

“There are bigger plates?” I asked incredulously, “I hadn’t thought of that

So it’s led me to a lot of thinking this week about what ‘plates’ might be made of, and how you could go about growing yours to fit your needs.  And my thoughts are, in no particular order:

  1. Take care of yourself.  Mentally, and physically, as much as you are able.  It makes a difference.  I hesitate to say this, given the shape I’m currently in, but it really is true that exercise gives you more energy. I don’t know how exactly, but I get more done on days I’ve made it to the gym. Invest time into your  mental health too, play, create things, get enough sleep, drink more water.  All of these things grow plates.
  2. Take care of yourself spiritually too. Pray! Walk as closely to Jesus as you can, not as far away as you can get away with, take time in God’s presence every day, even if it’s just a little bit.
  3. Choose wisely. Ask for wisdom so that you can make good choices and walk in them.  Don’t try to be superman, or superwoman, supermum, superdad or superpastor. If you don’t get what I mean by that please read this.
  4. Finally, grow your faith.  Faith is like water that goes granite-hard just as you step out onto it.  It gets stronger, wider and more weight-bearing the more you use it. If you never step out onto the water, maybe you’ll never get to learn that it can take your weight?

 

I pray that if you are balancing oranges, you’ll find ways to grow a bigger plate.  That your current burden would become a breeze to balance, and that you would be able to learn to let Jesus take responsibility for the weight.  I pray also for those days when oranges fall, that you would be enveloped in a grace that enables you to trust our Good Father -the ultimate expert fruit-catcher.

Hope

Hope /həʊp/:  n.  An optimistic attitude of mind, based on the expectation of positive outcomes.

It seems appropriate that at the start of thew new year I’m sitting here facing the challenge, emptiness and possibilities of a blank page.  It’s the calm before the storm of school, activities, study and work beginning again, and 2017 is still an empty blog post, a ticking cursor, waiting for me to get on and write something on it.

As you know, life isn’t all mountain tops.  Sometimes it’s deep difficult valleys, and a lot of 2016 was a struggle.  I didn’t write much.  It’s hard to write about lessons you’re still in the middle of learning and in the valley you don’t much feel like stopping to think about the view.

Actually, in the valley you mostly focus on trying to keep your face out of the rain and keep walking.  Sometimes victory is just staying upright and limping on.   But, even if you aren’t really aware of it, in the valley, truth takes root,  hope buds, new things grow.

This year God has been nudging to me to start writing postcards for people walking through valleys and wildernesses; Postcards of hope.  Not the watery hope that we often hear about: longed for, but not really expected, but solid hope. Hope which is the optimism that grows out of what we know in our hearts is coming.

Here is the first, a picture that some of you will recognise.  It’s mostly a wilderness, a blank, unexplored space.  It’s both terrifyingly empty and brimming with potential and  sometimes just what God needs in our lives.  Often he creates it, clearing the land of what has gone before to ready it for a new crop. In other times he comes and breathes new life into a space that has been created by a loss that he too wept over.

wilderness

Either way, if you’re facing a wilderness, it’s time to look for the new thing God is growing.  Whatever it is might take a while to bear fruit (and you might need some time to  rest and sit and watch it grow), although you should remember that even the dead wood of Aaron’s staff budded, blossomed and bore fruit all on the same day, so at the right time, when God does move, things might happen more quickly than you think!

I know not all of you are walking in valleys right now. Most of our lives are a patchwork of struggles and dancing, with blessing found in parts of both. But I trust that some of you on the mountains might help these postcards find their way to our sisters and brothers in the valleys and perhaps store up some of the truths for the day you do need them yourselves.


And thank you, to all of you who have encouraged me to begin again, to all of you who have shared postcards, who have bought the book and given it away, who have written to tell me how God has used my pictures to speak into your hearts, and who are still here reading in spite of the months of silence.  I wouldn’t have made it back here without you.

Ellie x